Minneapolis city councilwoman Andrea Jenkins was watching Netflix when she got a text from Jennifer White, the public safety aide for the city: “Have you talked to the mayor yet?” It was 1:00 in the morning the Tuesday after Memorial Day 2020; she brushed it off—she would respond later. Then the mayor, Jacob Frey, was calling her. He told her that there had been a “police-involved death,” noting that there were no guns involved. At the time she didn’t understand the emphasis, as details were scant. Then Jenkins saw the video of then Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. “I started combing on Facebook, and then after about 30 minutes or so, I finally come across the video and I watch it. And I’m like, Oh, my fucking God. Are you kidding me?” Jenkins told me in an interview last summer. “I’m in my own grief just as a Black person, as a Black trans woman, seeing a Black man murdered in the streets and having that level of grief and trauma. But also as a public servant responsible for the soul, the feelings, the heart, certainly, of my constituents that live in my district.”
The next week was a blur: All four officers involved in the killing were fired; Minnesota governor Tim Walz appointed Attorney General Keith Ellison to oversee the prosecutions of any cases arising from Floyd’s death; Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder. Jenkins was at a loss. In the middle of the night, activists scattered her lawn with gravestone-like placards bearing the face of Floyd and “Defund the Police” as the debate over law enforcement spiked and protests against police brutality crescendoed across the country and even abroad. “When I first saw the video, I knew that Minneapolis was going to be protesting. I knew that was going to happen.… But I didn’t realize it would spark a national, an international movement,” Jenkins said. “You can’t watch that video without feeling something, and most human beings felt pain and disgust and just anger.”
Now, after a Minneapolis jury found Chauvin guilty of two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter in the death of Floyd last week, Jenkins is hopeful that the ruling will foment continued change. “I’m thrilled, and I don’t know what else to really say. I’m really happy that former officer Chauvin is going to jail,” she said. Chauvin could face up to 75 years in prison, though his sentence, set to be handed down on June 25, is expected to be far less. Regardless, Jenkins said, “It is a step towards accountability for the Minneapolis Police Department, but I think the country as a whole.”
Jenkins described high tension and “deep anxiety” in Minneapolis during the emotional three-week trial of Chauvin. Governor Walz had called in the National Guard to patrol the streets, and the courthouse where the trial was taking place was elaborately fortified. In the 10 hours it took the jury to convict Chauvin, the city was on edge; had he not been found guilty, protests were all but guaranteed. That another Black man, Daunte Wright, was shot and killed by a police officer about 10 miles away from the courthouse, in the suburb of Brooklyn Center, did little to assuage such concerns. It was not unlike the tinderbox Jenkins described when Floyd was killed Memorial Day weekend of last year. On the heels of police killing Breonna Taylor while she was in bed and Ahmaud Arbery being gunned down by racists when he was running in broad daylight, “we were already a time bomb, and the fuse just ran out and exploded,” she said of Floyd’s death. As the jurors debated, her greatest hope was for “calm and peace.”
Now that the verdict has been handed down, Jenkins wants to see the public safety system in Minneapolis transformed. “My vision is a continuum of public safety that has a separate mental health response. We know that so many of our jails here, and all around the country, are essentially mental health hospitals. We need to have a much broader societal response to helping people deal with chronic and severe mental health issues, as well as immediate mental health crises that often end with people losing their lives.
“It would have to include fairness and justice in our economic systems,” Jenkins said. “A big part of what is driving crime in our society is the imbalance in resources that people have. It is a destructive reality of capitalism—the violent results of capitalism.”
But this vision still includes police. “We need a professional, well-trained, highly accountable, community-controlled police force to investigate crimes and hold people accountable for breaking the law,” she said. “If we are a nation of laws, and laws are the things that attempt to keep and hold our democracy together, then we need a system to enforce those laws. It is a very fragile system right now.“
Jenkins also wants the city to embrace the international movement Floyd’s murder sparked. More specifically, she wants the intersection of East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue—known as George Floyd Square—to “become a beacon of social justice” all around the world. In the 11 months since Chauvin murdered Floyd, the area has become, Jenkins explained, a space for “criminal activity to proliferate,” with multiple murders having taken place there. “The situation at George Floyd Square is really a challenging issue,” she said. “The city of Minneapolis is absolutely, 100% committed to, and willing to create, to work with the community—let me be real clear: to work with the community—to create a permanent memorial honoring the life of George Floyd. And even more specifically, and even more important to me, I think we need to be lifting up all victims of police brutality and loss of life from the police,” Jenkins said. She would like to see a center or a museum there “where people can come and learn, volunteer, grow, and see themselves reflected in art and all of these things. I really want to see something like that happen in this community.”
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